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Wizards flip the script on late game collapses, road woes

Wizards flip the script on late game collapses, road woes

ORLANDO -- The opening stretch of the season needed a rewrite. Not just because the Washington Wizards only won five of 13 games, but also the repetitive narrative. Wizards take a healthy lead. Wizards fall behind. Wizards lose. Then factor in the monotonous and gloomy road angle. Washington had yet to win away from Verizon Center entering Friday's rematch at Orlando.

Perhaps the final 6:05 of the 94-91 victory over the Magic will serve as a catalyst for a team still seeking an identity. If nothing else, there's a new chapter and one worth repeating.

The Wizards led by 19 points in the first quarter, but only 72-68 entering the fourth. When Magic guard Evan Fournier's 3-pointer was followed by D.J. Augustin's 3-point play, the Wizards trailed 80-76. The home crowd inside the Amway Center roared, just as they did on Nov. 5 when Washington was outscored 27-16 in the final period of an 88-86 loss.

"The biggest thing was our intensity and our defense," guard Bradley Beal said of the difference between the two games. "We were physical and played hard for 48 minutes regardless of what the score was. That's the biggest difference."

This time, Washington made the winning plays. Otto Porter's two 3-pointers sandwiched a deep shot by Augustin. Marcin Gortat layups accounted for Washington's next two field goals and put the Wizards up for good. 

Yet what truly fueled the victory occurred when Orlando had possession. After Augustin's 3-pointer, the Wizards held the Magic without a point on five straight possessions. Combined with the Porter 3-pointer's, the Gortat layup's and John Wall's, late game wizardry, Washington held on. 

"I thought our guys did a good job of competing," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "In order to win on the road, you have to win on the defensive end. I thought we did that throughout the game."

That was especially true early -- Washington led 26-7 in the first quarter and Orlando had 15 turnovers in the first half -- and late. 

"In the first quarter we had a big lead -- and it started to go away," Wall said. "In the third quarter...we were not making shots or playing well. We still defended at a high clip."

Is Orlando a miserable offensive team, one that entered ranked 29th in scoring? Yes, but the Miami Heat labor in that area and yet put 114 on the scoreboard during a win in Washington. 

Are the Magic a playoff contender? Probably not but who cares at this point, especially after recent losses to the Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, two of the five straight foes with losing records faced by Washington. The Wizards (5-9) just need some momentum. Going 3-2 over their last five helps the cause heading into Saturday's meeting against San Antonio. 

Did the Wizards simply win this game with the Magic because Wall played after sitting out the previous meeting? Obviously, that helps. That Wall is also moving closer toward peak conditioning after coming off two knee surgeries cannot be ignored. 

This road win gets dismissed if Washington reverts back to the previous narrative. Perhaps it won't be fair judging the outcome against the title-contending Spurs, but wins can't just come against teams headed to the next draft lottery. If the Wizards combine resolve and effort going forward regardless of any momentum changes, then perhaps this regular season ends with an uplifting conclusion. For now, Washington takes the win and flips the road woes page. 

"It was a big win altogether whether it was at home or on the road," Porter said. "That is two in a row and we are just trying to take it one game at a time."

Cliches equal bad writing. That approach works just fine for a team seeking positive momentum.

[RELATED: Takeaways from the Wizards' first road win at Magic]

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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

There won’t be a Tim Connelly reunion with the Washington Wizards after all.

Connelly passed on the opportunity to become the Wizards President of Basketball Operations, and instead will remain in the same capacity with the Denver Nuggets, a source confirms to NBC Sports Washington. ESPN first reported on Connelly's decision.

Washington received permission to meet with Connelly late Thursday evening. He left the NBA Combine in Chicago and flew to Washington Friday for a discussion with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, a source told NBC Sports Washington. On Friday, Connelly reportedly received the offer to fill the front office vacancy created by the firing of Ernie Grunfeld on April 2.

While the interest in the Wizards was genuine from the Baltimore native, Catholic University alum and former member of Washington's front office, Connelly could not leave the "stable" situation with significant promise in Denver, a source told NBC Sports Washington.  

Connelly, 41, was named Denver’s general manager in 2013. The Nuggets won 54 games and finished the 2018-19 regular season as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The roster, headlined by All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray, is the second-youngest in the NBA. "Tough to give that up," the source said. "Too much to risk."

The Wizards are coming off a polar opposite campaign that ended with a 32-50 record. Significant uncertainty exists going forward with five-time All-Star John Wall expected to miss a large chunk of the 2019-20 season as his four-year, $170 million supermax contract extension kicks in.

Leonsis began a deliberative search process for a new President of Basketball Operations after dismissing Grunfeld, who held the position for 16 years.  While other candidates were interviewed during the process, including interim GM Tommy Sheppard, Connelly’s name was linked to the opening almost from the start.

Connelly considered Leonsis' handling of the discussions first class, according to a source.

Sheppard, former Hawks GM Danny Ferry and Thunder assistant GM Troy Weaver are the other known primary candidates.

In April, NBC Sports Washington first reported Connelly considered the Wizards his “dream job,” according to sources. The Catholic University alum began his NBA career as an intern with Washington in 1996 before holding various full-time front office positions under Grunfeld. He left for New Orleans in 2010.

The Wizards face significant challenges before re-entering contention in the Eastern Conference. With Wall injured, two-time All-Star Bradley Beal is the only healthy returning starter. 2018 first round pick Troy Brown Jr. is the only other valued long-term asset beyond the ninth overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft,

More than half of last season’s roster is entering some form of free agency. Washington could have limited salary cap space depending on which players return.

The situation requires the kind of roster-shaping creativity Connelly demonstrated in Denver. The Wizards now must look elsewhere for their new front office leader.

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2019 NBA Draft Big Board: Post-combine rankings shakeup

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2019 NBA Draft Big Board: Post-combine rankings shakeup

The 2019 NBA Combine has come and gone. Impressions made will linger. 

Before revealing the updated and expanded 2019 NBA Draft Big Board, we dive into news and notes coming out of three days in Chicago.

Also, check out insight into the Wizards options with the ninth overall selection and the latest NBC Sports Washington NBA mock draft.

*Based on conversations with six NBA teams and other league sources, here’s a list of players that stood out during the two days of 5-on-5 scrimmages. Note projected lottery and first-round selections largely did not participate other than Tennessee’s Grant Williams:

Nic Claxton -- The 6-foot-11 center entered the Combine outside of first-round projections. Now the sense is “late first” assuming he remains in the draft after Claxton’s impressive defensive work protecting the rim and switching on the perimeter when needed.

Tremont Waters -- The small point guard tested the NBA Draft pool after leading LSU to the Sweet 16. That looks like a savory decision after a team source declared the one-time Georgetown recruit as the best player during Thursday’s action. The 5-foot-11 Waters splashed 3-pointers off the dribble, showed quick hands defensively and posted a 40-inch vertical.

Jalen Lecque – The Brewster Academy product/NC State recruit received the most praise from various sources, though the unknown with the high schooler likely played some part. The 6-foot-4 guard with a 43-inch vertical leap received lofty athletic comparisons -- his nickname is “Baby Westbrook” -- and his skill in spots matched the hype. The 18-year-old skipped the second day of scrimmages after receiving positive feedback from teams, ESPN reported. There’s a rung to climb before the first-round talk, but scouts certainly took notice.

Luka Samanic -- The 6-foot-10 forward “made friends” within the scouting community after flashing his smooth athleticism, steady shooting stroke and hoops smarts during Thursday’s session. Samanic entered the Combine outside the top 30-35 selections. That probably won’t be the case soon.

Isaiah Roby -- Hey, an upperclassman. The 6-foot-8 forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan made noise with his full-court skills and defensive versatility. According to one source, Roby would stay in the draft if a top 40 selection. How teams decipher his limited shooting numbers last season -- 33 percent on 3-pointers, 68 percent from the free throw line -- could determine which side of that projection he falls.

Others: Brian Bowen, Darius Bazley, Devon Dotson, Cody Martin, Tacko Fall, Jordan Bone

*The trend of top prospects sitting out the scrimmages went up another level to the chagrin of NBA teams. Williams was the only top-35 on ESPN’s pre-Combine list to scrimmage. That the SEC Player of the Year struggled with his shot and perhaps slid a tick won’t help the argument that players should play. “Agents control things,” one NBA general manager mused. “What can you do?”

*The Wizards met with several prospects potentially available in the 31-40 range, another sign of the franchise’s intentions to buy into the second round. That group includes Oregon forward Louis King.

The 6-foot-8 forward offers a 7-foot wingspan. The 39 percent 3-point shooter at Oregon was one of the top “on the move” shooters from 15 feet during non-game shooting drills in Chicago.

“This is great exposure for people that declared for the draft,” the Ducks’ leading scorer told NBC Sports Washington. “I felt like helping my team get to the Pac 12 championship and the (NCAA Tournament’s) Sweet 16, having a lot of confidence in my game, I was ready for the league."

*We can probably remove Ty Jerome from that early second-round grouping. One source put his draft range at 18-22 based on teams interviewing the Virginia guard -- I’ll note Jerome stood out in our 1-on-1 interview -- and reviewing his shooting prowess.

*As for the overall first round, here’s a rough look based on tiers.

We start with Zion Williamson, then Ja Morant with maybe RJ Barrett. From there think 4-9 with that group perhaps expanding or decreasing by a player or two. Then we go 10 to early 20’s. While there’s always the chance a single player stands out for a specific team, the sense from Chicago is this large group makes the idea of trading down from say 9 more hopeful than likely.

2019 NBA Draft Big Board

1. Zion Williamson, PF, Duke

2. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

3. RJ Barrett, SG, Duke

4. De'Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia

5. Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech

6. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt

7. Coby White, SG, UNC

8. Cam Reddish, SF, Duke

9. Sekou Doumbouya, PF, International

10. Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

11. Bol Bol, PF, Oregon

12. Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga

13. Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga

14. Nassir Little, SF, UNC

15. PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky

16. Goga Bitadze, C, International 

17. Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC

18. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Va. Tech

19. Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana

20. Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky

21. Ty Jerome, SG, Virginia 

22. Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky 

23. Cameron Johnson, PF, UNC

24. Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee 

25. Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland

26. Luka Samanic, PF, Croatia

27. Carsen Edwards, SG/PG, Purdue

28. Nicolas Claxton, C, Georgia

29. KZ Okpala, SF, Stanford

30. Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas

31. Talen Horton-Tucker, SF, Iowa State

32. Admiral Schofield, PF, Tennessee

33. Luguentz Dort, SG, Arizona State

34. Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont

35. Mfiondu Kabengele, PF, Florida State

36. Eric Paschall, PF, Villanova

37. Isaiah Roby, SF, Nebraska

38. Jalen Lecque, SG, USA 

39. Louis King, SF, Oregon

40. Tremont Waters, PG, LSU 

41. Jalen McDaniels, PF, San Diego State

42. Matisse Thybulle, SF, Washington

43. Ignas Brazdeikis, F, Michigan

44. Darius Bazley, SF, USA 

45. Brian Bowen, PF, USA

46. Naz Reid, C, LSU

47. Jontay Porter, C, Missouri

48. Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky

49. Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. John’s

50. Cody Martin, SG, Nevada

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